It was a long, but uneventful journey for Rohea, Puccar, and Maes. Rohea dutifully completed his stretching exercises every morning before they broke camp, and found his strength and health recover incrementally. Maes joined him in the morning stretches, and also practiced the sword movements that Rohea had previously taught her. Puccar watched her practice with interest, but did not say a word.
When they were halfway to Yaklo, they made camp for the night. They started a small fire a short distance from the road, and were roasting some fish that Puccar had caught from a nearby stream. A low rumble first caught their attention, and Rohea and Puccar immediately stood up and scanned in the direction of the sound.
"A carriage approaches," Puccar said, pointing at a small figure in the distance.
The carriage grew bigger as it got nearer to the party. The horses appeared haggard, as if they had been on the road without rest for many days. As the carriage approached their camp, it slowed down and finally came to a stop a short distance from their campsite.
Rohea and Puccar spread out slightly, and placed their hands on their sword sheaths. Rohea gestured to Maes to stay behind him. Maes appeared slightly miffed but complied.
The man driving the horses of the carriage turned his head to face them, but remained motionless otherwise. The door to the carriage opened, and a well-dressed man stepped out.
The well-dressed man called out, "Hello there, travelers!"
Rohea raised his hand and replied, "Good evening to you! How goes your travels?"
The man put his hands to his sides and walked closer to them. He said, "Not very well, I'm afraid. We are traveling to Riloo. My wife is deathly ill, but the doctors of our town say that there is nothing more they can do. I heard that there is a healer in Riloo, but I fear my wife may not survive the remainder of the trip."
"I am sorry to hear that," Puccar said.
Rohea and Puccar glanced and each other and nodded.
"You are welcome to join our camp for the night if you'd like," Rohea said.
The man thought for a short while and replied, "Yes, we would like that. I want to get to Riloo as soon as possible, but the horses need a rest."
The well-dressed man walked up to Rohea and Puccar, and outstretched his hand.
"I am Ridas. That is my servant, Garren," he said, pointing to the man on the horse. "My wife Nyier is in the carriage. Garren!" he called. "Help Nyier down. Some fresh air will do her some good."
"Yes sir," Garren said, dismounting the horse with practiced ease. He walked to the carriage and gently rapped his knuckles. "Mistress Nyier, I am coming in to help you down from the carriage."
Without waiting for an answer, Garren climbed in. A short moment later, he emerged from the carriage back-first, carrying a woman in his arms.
Maes gasped when she saw how frail Nyier looked, even from the distance. Nyier was completely limp in Garren's arms, and as Garren approached the group, Maes could tell how ashen Nyier's skin looked.
Ridas nodded sadly. "Nyier is deathly sick, she has been getting worse in the last few days."
Maes approached Garren and Nyier, and glanced at Ridas. Maes touched Nyier's arm and pulled back quickly.
"She is burning up!" Maes exclaimed. "Come, we must give her some water."
Garren brought Nyier over towards the campfire, while Maes took out her water pouch. She lifted Nyier's head slightly and poured a little water into Nyier's mouth.
"You must swallow," Maes spoke softly to Nyier, but there was no response.
Ridas said, "She hasn't been able to eat or drink since yesterday. When we just left our town of Hayr, she would wake up for brief periods and drink a little water. Now..."
"At this rate, she won't survive much longer. She needs to drink something, especially when she is burning up like this," Maes said.
Rohea went up to Ridas and asked, "How long has she been sick?"
Ridas replied, "I don't know for sure. I returned from Wolle about a week ago, and Nyier was already sick then. But it was nowhere as bad as now. She was tired, but she could talk with me and help out around the house. We thought that it was probably a minor illness. Over the last few days, she got much worse, and I sought the help of the doctors in town. They gave me some herbs, but it didn't help. Instead, she seemed to get worse. The doctors said there was nothing more they could do, and one of them told me about the healer in Riloo that might help."
"How did the doctor know about the healer?" Puccar asked.
Ridas was quiet for a while. "I don't know. I didn't ask. I immediately set off for Riloo with Garren."
"Garren," Rohea called. "Do you know any more about this illness?"
"Garren was travelling with me from Wolle," Ridas quickly replied as Garren laid Nyier gently down on the ground and approached the group.
Garren shook his head. "I don't know any more than what Master Ridas has said."
As the four men talked, Maes knelt down beside Nyier, placed her hands over Nyier's forehead and closed her eyes. The soft white glow enveloped her hands and slowly spread to Nyier's face. It crept downwards and encompassed the entire body.
Ridas noticed the glow and gasped. "What is she doing?"
Maes ignored him and continued focusing her concentration on Nyier.
Rohea said, "You were looking for a healer, weren't you?"
"Thank the gods!" Ridas said. "Will Nyier be alright?"
Rohea shrugged. "We will have to wait and see."
After a short while, Maes removed her hands from Nyier's forehead and placed it over Nyier's stomach. She closed her eyes again, and for a short while, the glow around Nyier seemed to increase in brightness. Maes suddenly plopped forwards and placed her head on Nyier's stomach, sobbing quietly.
Ridas rushed forwards towards Maes and Nyier. "Is it too late? Is Nyier gone?" he asked urgently.
Maes shook her head. "No, Nyier will be alright."
"Why are you crying then?"
Maes looked up at Ridas, her eyes red and filled with tears. "I'm afraid your son did not make it."
"M-my son? I don't have a..." Ridas started, and stopped. He put his palm over his mouth. "But she didn't say a thing about it."
"Maybe she didn't know," Maes offered.
"What will happen to her now?" Ridas asked.
Maes pulled herself up. "Nyier should recover from her illness. I've neutralized the sickness in her body"
"She'll recover now?" Ridas.
"Yes, Nyier's body will heal by itself, now that the sickness has been removed," Maes explained. "Was anyone else sick in our town?"
Ridas thought for a while, and replied, "I don't know. I'd only just returned from Wolle."
Rohea asked, "From what you told us, the doctors seemed to give up on Nyier rather quickly. Could they have seen similar situations in town?"
Ridas shrugged. "It's possible. I'm just relieved that Nyier will be alright. Thank you healer!" he said to Maes.
Maes replied, "I'm sorry I couldn't save both of them."
Ridas walked towards Maes and said gingerly, "It's alright. My wife is what matters. We can have more children in the future."
Ridas looked at Maes and asked, "Are you the healer from Riloo? I'd thought the healer was a man."
Maes gave an angry look at Ridas. "Are you saying that women can't be healers?"
Ridas stepped backward and quickly continued, "I meant no disrespect! It's only that the doctor said 'he' when referring to the healer."
Rohea said, "It's best that you keep this to yourself. We don't want the mages to catch wind of this."
"I've heard that the mages hunt healers. Why would they do something like that?" Ridas asked.
Rohea replied curtly, "Who knows why mages do anything?"
At that moment, Nyier gave a weak cough, and everyone in the party turned. Nyier's skin still looked ashen, but it was beginning to have a pink tinge to it. Nyier slowly opened her eyes and looked around.
"Ridas?" she called weakly.
"I'm here, Nyier," Ridas replied, sitting down beside her and holding her hand. "Everything will be all right, now."
Maes offered her water pouch to Nyier. "You must drink, your body needs water."
Ridas took the water pouch, and gently poured some water into Nyier's mouth. Nyier drank a few mouthfuls before she started coughing.
"That should be good for now," Maes said. "She will need some food, as well."
Puccar took one of the fish that was roasting over the fire and offered it to Ridas and Nyier.
"Thank you," Ridas said. "All of you have been very kind to us."
Puccar smiled. "You are very welcome."
The next morning, Nyier was looking much better, and Ridas offered some coins to Maes for her help.
"No, I cannot accept it," Maes said. "I was only doing what needed to be done."
Ridas said, "I will always remember your kindness."
"Where are you headed now?" Rohea asked. "Back to Hayr?"
Ridas said, "I will continue to Riloo. I have some family there that can help me take care of Nyier as she recovers. What about you?"
Rohea and Puccar looked at each other, but did not say a word.
"We should head to Hayr," Maes said. "There may be more people like Nyier who need help!"
Rohea nodded. "It is on the way," he said. "What do you think?" Rohea asked, looking at Puccar.
"We must help those in need," Puccar said. "Let us head to Hayr then."
Ridas looked thoughtful at their statement, but did not say anything.
The group said their farewells and parted ways.
"Are you sure we can trust Ridas not to tell the mages?" Puccar asked once Ridas' carriage was out of earshot.
"Maes just saved his wife's life," Rohea said. "I don't think he would knowingly cause us harm. In any case, he does not know that we are heading to Yaklo."
"Aren't we going to Hayr?" Maes asked.
"Yes," Rohea replied. "But only for a day or two. The soldiers at Yaklo need our help as well."
"I agree," Puccar said. "Perhaps Nyier was the only one that was sick."
Maes kept quiet and continued on her way.
The next morning, while Maes was practicing her sword movements, Rohea mentioned to Puccar, "Maes could do with some sparring practice, would you be so kind as to spar with her?"
Puccar nodded. He retrieved his sword and shield from his horse and approached Maes. Maes turned to face him, and dropped into a defensive stance.
Puccar chuckled and said, "It's good to be defensive, but sometimes you don't want to show your hand too early."
Puccar adopted a neutral stance, with his right hand lightly gripping the sword. "Like this, I'm ready if you attack, and yet, I can jump into an attack, like this!"
With that, Puccar suddenly launched himself forward towards Maes. Momentarily stunned by Puccar's swift motion, Maes brought her shield up a little too late. She was unable to block the full force of his attack, and her shield flew off to the side.
"See, now you've lost your shield," Puccar taunted. He tilted his head towards the shield. "Go ahead, pick it up again, I'll wait."
Maes cursed softly to herself as she bent down to pick her shield up. She strapped it to her left arm, and checked the straps carefully to make sure that it wouldn't come off again. She turned towards Puccar and copied his stance.
"Good," Puccar said. "You're learning. Now, come and attack me."
Maes slowly circled around him, taking one step at a time. She suddenly turned her head to the side, as if looking at something standing beside Puccar. Puccar started to turn his head in response, and Maes lunged forward with her sword.
Puccar swiftly took a step to his left, and pushed Maes past him with his shield.
"Good!" Puccar said. "But not good enough."
Rohea chuckled. "Good try, Maes. But I learned that trick from Puccar."
Maes grinned to herself, happy to have received compliments even if the attack was unsuccessful. Maes and Puccar continued dueling for some time, with Puccar easily fending off Maes' attacks, and offering useful advice.
Maes was all sweaty and losing her breath. She continued gripping her sword tightly, and glared at Puccar.
"That's enough for today," Rohea announced. "Great work, today," he said to Maes. "And, thank you, Puccar, for helping me train her."
Puccar smiled and replied, "It was my pleasure. She shows promise, with more training she could one day surpass you. Me, on the other hand..." He grinned.
Maes approached Puccar and clasped his outstretched wrist. "Thank you for sparring with me Sir Puccar."
The trio packed up their belongings and continued on their way towards Hayr. As they were about to mount their horses, Maes asked Rohea, "What if there are many more sick in Hayr and a few days isn't enough to help all of them?"
Rohea replied, "We will do what we can. As skilled as you are with your healing prowess, you cannot save an entire town. Furthermore, the longer we stay at Hayr, the more likely the mages will hear of it and come after us. At Yaklo, the presence of the troops will keep the mages at bay."
"If the entire town is sick," Maes said. "I will heal them all!"
The trio rode on for another day, and soon the town of Hayr was visible in the distance. However, Rohea and Puccar sensed that something was amiss, and they nudged their horses faster towards Hayr.
As they got closer to Hayr, their worries were realized. They stopped their horses a distance away from the town entrance, and motioned for Maes to also halt her horse.
"Why are we stopping?" Maes asked.
"Look over there," Rohea said, pointing to the town gates. "The town gates are closed."
"Why does it matter?"
"Something has happened to the town," Puccar answered. "Stay here with Rohea, I will go ahead to check it out."
Without waiting for an answer, Puccar gently kicked his horse and they rode off towards Hayr. Maes started to follow, but Rohea shook his head, and Maes stopped.
"If what I fear is true, it is better that we stay here and wait for Puccar," Rohea said.
"What is it you fear?" Maes asked.
Rohea did not answer, but had a grim look about his face.
As Puccar approached the town gates, the stench of death grew stronger. He took a piece of cloth from his pack and covered his nose with it. His horse was soon unwilling to take another step towards Hayr. Puccar dismounted and continued the rest of the way on foot.
"Halt," a voice called from within Hayr. "Come no further, for your own sake."
"I am Sir Puccar from Wolle," Puccar replied. "What has happened here?"
"Sir Puccar!" the voice said. "The town of Hayr has been afflicted by a plague. Many of our townsfolk have fallen ill. The mayor has decided to close the gates to prevent any travelers from entering Hayr. We have already sent word to Wolle to request help. Did you come from Wolle to aid us?"
Puccar shook his head. "I have been travelling for some time, and did not come directly from Wolle. How many of your townsfolk are sick?"
"The number grows every day," the voice answered. "The doctors are doing all they can, but it is only getting worse."
"I met with the merchant Ridas on the way here. It did not sound as if the town was in trouble."
"Ridas!" the voice spat. "He ran as soon as he heard that the mayor was going to close the gates. We thought of sending someone after him, but the mayor warned us not to let anyone else leave Hayr."
"That was wise of the mayor," Puccar said. "Lest the illness spread beyond these walls."
"Indeed. But those of us within the walls are doomed," the voice said with sadness. "Best for you to leave while you can."
Puccar nodded sadly and returned to his horse, which was waiting patiently for him. Puccar rode somberly back to Rohea and Maes, and shook his head as he approached them.
Rohea gently nudged Feisty to turned away from Hayr, but Maes asked, "Why are we leaving? There may be people who need help in Hayr!"
Puccar replied, "I fear that we are too late. There are many townsfolk who are stricken with the sickness, and the mayor has closed the town gates in fear that it spreads to other towns."
"I can go and save them." Maes declared.
"I don't doubt your intentions," Rohea said. "However, an entire town is beyond even your abilities."
"We should at least try!" Maes said.
"We cannot risk you succumbing to the illness," Rohea continued. "We need you at Yaklo as well."
"Do you mean that the soldiers are more important than these townsfolk?" Maes questioned.
"No, of course not."
"Then we should stay and help," Maes said.
Rohea sighed. He looked at Puccar for assistance, but Puccar shrugged.
Puccar offered, "Perhaps the gods led us here for a reason."
Rohea looked at Maes and said, "Alright, we will go to Hayr. But, Maes, you must promise me that you will listen to my instructions and not over-exert yourself."
Maes grudgingly agreed.
The trio rode their horses as far as they could, and walked the rest of the way to Hayr on foot, as Puccar had done.
"Halt!" the same voice called out. "Come no further, for your own sakes."
"It is Sir Puccar," Puccar replied. "I have returned with Sir Rohea and his squire."
"Sir Puccar," the voice said. "Surely you know the folly of entering Hayr now."
"We may be able to offer some assistance," Rohea called out. "Let us speak to the mayor."
"He ... is sick," the voice said. "If you truly wish to enter, I will not stop you. However, once you enter, we will not let you leave."
Rohea looked at Puccar and Maes, and replied, "We understand."
They walked to the town gates, which opened slightly to let them in. They quickly entered, and the gates shut ominously behind them. The town of Hayr was not very large, but the main cobblestone road leading from the gates was empty. In fact, they did not see anyone walking along the streets.
A lone figure climbed down from the tower erected next to the walls, and approached the trio.
"I am Tarwo, one of the remaining guards of Hayr. I would bid you welcome, but Hayr is not a welcome sight these days."
Rohea approached Tarwo and outstretched his wrist in a show of friendship, but Tarwo stepped backwards.
"I mean you no disrespect, Sir Rohea," Tarwo said. "But I do not want to cause you to fall ill."
"Are you also sick?" Maes asked.
"I don't feel sick yet," Tarwo replied. "But it is hard to say. More and more fall ill every day."
Maes approached Tarwo, with her palms flat outwards towards him. She closed her eyes and her hands glowed briefly.
"What was that?" Tarwo asked.
Maes replied, "You seem fine."
"She is a healer," Rohea said.
Tarwo gasped, and knelt down in front of Maes. "The gods have heard our cries for help! Please, you must come to my home. My wife and son are ill."
Maes pulled Tarwo up and said, "Of course, lead the way."
Tarwo's home was located near the city gates. He opened the door and led them towards the bedroom. A middle-aged woman and a child lay on the bed. They looked haggard, but their skin were not as ashen as Nyier's had been.
The woman heard them approaching and slowly sat up from the bed. She looked at Tarwo and asked, "Tarwo, who are these people?"
"My love, the gods have answered us! She is a healer who has come to save us," Tarwo replied, gesturing at Maes.
Maes gave a small smile and approached the bed. She sat down on the bed, took the woman's hands in hers, and closed her eyes. The warm glow emanated from Maes's hand towards the woman and it spread to cover the woman and the child. After a short period, Maes opened her eyes and the glow dissipated.
"There," Maes said. "Both of you are safe now."
"Thank you!" the woman cried. "I feel like my health has been returned to me."
The child stirred in the bed, and the woman gently patted him. "Rest, my child."
Maes stood up from the bed and turned to Tarwo. "Where are the rest of the sick?"
Tarwo replied, "The mayor asked that all who were sick gather at the town hall. It has since been filled with people, but that would be a good place to start."
Rohea asked, "Where is the mayor himself?"
"He is also at the town hall. He worked tirelessly there night and day before he too succumbed to the illness."
"In that case," Maes said. "We should make haste to the town hall."
"Wait," Rohea said. "Do you need some rest before heading there?"
"I am fine," Maes replied. "We should hurry, lives are at stake."
Rohea, Puccar and Maes found their way to the town hall, following the directions given by Tarwo. He chose to stay with his wife and son, since they had only just been healed. The town hall was not difficult to find, the main cobblestone road led directly to it – a big structure in the middle of the town, with a tall slanted roof. While the town had looked empty at the gates, the town hall was in stark contrast. Many people milled around outside the walls, and others sat or knelt beside their loved ones who laid on the grass lawn outside the hall.
"There are so many sick here," Puccar commented. "I'm not sure that we can save them all."
Rohea nodded. "We need to come up with a plan on how to separate the healthy from the sick."
Maes said, "I have an idea."
She walked right up to the doors of the town hall, snaking past some of the people who were nearby. Rohea followed closely behind, while Puccar stayed a distance away from the town hall. Walking up the three steps leading into the town hall, Maes turned around and placed her hands on the frame of the door. She closed her eyes, and for a while it looked like nothing was happening.
Maes opened her eyes, and Rohea gasped. Maes' eyes were glowing!
The familiar faint glow enveloped Maes' entire body and spread into the door frame of the town hall. From there, it slowly diffused into the walls, until it seemed to Rohea that the entire town hall was slightly glowing. Initially, no one in the vicinity appeared to notice.
The glow in the walls increased in brightness, and began to get the attention of the people within the town hall. Rohea could hear hushed whispers and people pointing at the walls. Rohea glanced at Maes, and noticed that she was trembling slightly.
"Maes! Are you alright?" Rohea asked in a concerned voice.
Maes did not answer. Rohea watched helplessly as a drop of sweat formed on Maes' forehead and dripped down the side of her face. Soon, more beads of sweat appeared and followed the first.
By this time, there was a small commotion within the town hall, and excited chatter was heard. The sick within the walls of the town hall were beginning to show signs of improvement!
Maes was visibly shivering at this point, and a small puddle of sweat had formed at her feet.
"Maes!" Rohea called. "Answer me!"
Rohea grabbed Maes by the shoulder and began shaking her. Maes did not respond. Fearing the worst, Rohea held onto Maes' hands, which were holding on to the door frame, and tried to pry them loose. To his surprise, he could not budge her hands an inch, as they felt like they were held fast by a supernatural force.
Puccar had noticed the glow around the town hall, and made his way towards the entrance. He spotted Rohea and Maes near the door, and headed towards them. He tried to aid Rohea in removing Maes' hands but to no avail.
"Rohea, look!" Puccar said, pointing at Maes' face.
Maes had opened her eyes slightly, and instead of the usual soft glow, it was pitch black. She stopped trembling and stood deathly still.
Rohea and Puccar redoubled their efforts to remove Maes from the door, but it was of no use. Maes remained firmly rooted to the ground, and her hands remained stuck on the door frame.
The glow around the town hall dimmed and began to take on a slight shade of gray. The color slowly grew dimmer and dimmer. Most of the sick within the town hall had by this point regain consciousness at least, and many were sitting and holding onto their loved ones. As the town hall took on an ominous black glow, the people began to get concerned. Some rose to their feet and tried to leave, but found that they were also stuck to the ground.
The people began to panic and cry for help. The walls became so black that the light coming in from the windows had little effect and cast no shadows.
Rohea was still holding on to Maes' hands, and somehow, he could feel the darkness moving around Maes. It felt like a faint breeze, but instead of the welcome breeze of spring, it felt like death itself was swirling around her. The darkness gathered and concentrated near Maes' hands and feet, and began moving inside of her. It started slowly and quickly increased its pace. The walls of the town hall regained its normal color, as the darkness pulled away and into Maes. The glow around her body had by this time turned pitch black, but it somehow seemed to get even darker as time passed.
Eventually, all the darkness had disappeared from the town hall, and was contained within Maes' body. It seemed to seep through her skin, and her normal skin color began emerging. Maes opened her eyes fully, and it was completely black. She glanced at Rohea, and blinked again. Her eyes took on their normal color once again.
Maes collapsed downwards, and Rohea caught her and leaned her against himself.
"Are you alright, Maes?" Rohea asked.
Maes nodded weakly. She gave a small smile and said, "Now the people here are alright, too."
Edited By TeNderLoin